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Dr. Laura and the “N-Word”

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Yesterday, talk host Dr. Laura Schlessinger (Ask Dr. Laura) got into it with a caller about the appropriateness of using the “N-word.” Stating that African-American comics use the hated epithet all the time in their routines, Schlessinger sees no difference in everyone using it at will. Accusing the caller of being hypersensitive, she claimed not to understand why it’s such a big deal. “Claim” is the operative word. I think she understands—very well. That word has been historically used to oppress and victimize and entire people. Words, as she well knows, are powerful weapons. 

Like me, Dr. Laura is Jewish.  (She’s a Jew by choice, and although she famously abandoned Orthodox Judaism in 2003, Schlessinger has not, to my knowledge, renounced her conversion.) So, I was shocked at her lack of (even adopted) cultural memory even more than her lack of sensitivity to the nature and power of defamatory language. It defies my belief that she doesn’t understand the difference between an AfricanAmerican comic using the N-word and her own use of it. 

Nasty, crass, cruel and offensive slurs have been used against Jews for generations. The “K-word,” comes immediately to mind, although there are far worse—words that have persecuted and vilified—and resulted in untold suffering over centuries.

Do Jewish comics use some of those epithets in stand-up routines? Sure. Do they make us (as Jews) cringe? Sometimes. But those same epithets uttered by an outsider are more than cringe-worthy; they are deeply offensive, if not downright chilling. Hearing a non-Jew (comic or not) using the “K-word,” for example, or worse shakes my cultural memory to the core, cranking up my anti-Semite “spidey sense” to “11.” 

Yes, Jewish comics use those slurs to get a rise; to get a laugh out of audiences Jewish and Gentile. But a Jewish joke is a very different fish (and I don’t mean gefilte) emerging from the mouth of a non-Jew.  So for Dr Laura to feign ignorance is no valid defense, and if it is—and she really is that naive—then shame on her. 

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is Publisher/Executive Editor of Blogcritics, (blogcritics.org). Her Bram Stoker Award-nominated novel, called "Anne Rice meets Michael Crichton," The Apothecary's Curse The Apothecary's Curse is now out from Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Her book on the TV series House, M.D., Chasing Zebras is a quintessential guide to the themes, characters and episodes of the hit show. Barnett is an accomplished speaker, an annual favorite at MENSA's HalloWEEM convention, where she has spoken to standing room crowds on subjects as diverse as "The Byronic Hero in Pop Culture," "The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes," "The Hidden History of Science Fiction," and "Our Passion for Disaster (Movies)."
  • Chana

    One other thing, about race: White people here in America are really, really getting fed up with the attitude of blacks. It seems that no matter how much pandering to them or catering to them we do, its never enough. This is because blacks see whites catering to them as weakness and so they demand more and more special treatment.

    I say, as a Jew, screw all of them. My people were persecited and called worse names than “nigger” in our 3500 yrs of existence, we learned to overcome it and be successful despite having been treated much worse than blacks ever were. And might I remind you we were enslaved too…ironically, by Africans (ancient Egyptians)!

    I think this is what Dr Laura is fed up with, and I’m not the only American Jew who feels like this. I’m just one of the few willing to say so.

  • Chana

    Why was it necessary to mention that Dr Laura is a “Jew by choice”? Her birth father was Jewish, so she was not Halachically Jewish.But by Reform standards, she was born Jewish.

    I just don’t see the point in mentioning it. In Jewish Law, converts are to be regarded as no different from born Jews. Was it your way of placing distance between you and her, since she is supposedly “racist” now?

  • Lee, here’s an educational link. Before reading this, I did not realize that the word originated in America or that it’s of such relatively recent vintage.

  • Lee

    I must lead an awfully protected life. I don’t even know what the K-word is!

  • Dr. lauara simply should have told the woman to tell her husband to grow a set and stand up for his wife. Instead she took it her own direction and had to throw in that zinger about marrying outside your race. She stepped in it.

    NOW, she is setting herself up as a martyr for free speech. Guess what, her free speech was not abridged by the government. She had sponsors drop her, which happens to dozens of radio hosts every year. Most move on and get new ones. But she cried to Larry King. She is making a calculated, political move here. And she will fail.

  • Zedd


    I think you did your satire wrong. You moved back and forth too much. Maybe its a new form… schitzo satire. That was a crazy and wild trip.

    Oh I get it, was it an art installation? Some artsy thing thats supposed to make you question the IQ of the person who wrote it and the society that makes him feel good enough to teach/lecture on the world wide web, to make you hopeful about our planet.

    It is a Liberal conspiracy to make right leaning people look dumb.

    Oh I give up…. What is it?

  • The sheer amount of blind ignorance and stupidity stuffed into that last comment is quite impressive. I hope it’s satire.

  • Joe

    White people need to know that the world hates them. The US needs to criminalize the words of whites. Those who speak their minds must be shut down. America needs to know that they will soon be taken over by Islam and the white people should all be killed. Mexicans and Muslims are the new face of America and White people in America need to find somewhere else to live. White people who are christian around the world should also be prepared to either convert to Islam or die. If a white person expresses any free speech then they should be shouted down. White people although they are smarter and have invented most industry, language, art and are otherwise the intelligent ones-should succumb to the fact that those who are not white must be given things that white people earned. Even though a world without white people would be a barbaric place-at least they will no longer offend non-whites and muslims. Maybe white people can go to canada so muslims and mexicans can have the US.

  • Cool point, Zedd. My sentiments exactly. And what of her voice when deprived of a forum? At least she was able to influence some people who listened to her.

    But perhaps she envisages a brighter future for herself, speaking on behalf of white supremacists organization. She’s liable to get drafted.

    It still doesn’t sound like Dr. Laura to me. Must have suffered from temporary insanity.

  • Ruvy

    One of the reasons I moved away from America was to get away from the racial tension that crucifies that nation – and that Laura Schlesinger couldn’t – and won’t tear her self away from.

    I don’t have to care about black hate stares – Ethiopian Jews don’t use them. I don’t have to care about whites having enslaved blacks – we did not enslave blacks in Israel, and don’t. I don’t give a rat’s ass what American blacks call themselves. I don’t have to deal with their “I got it coming to me, honkey” attitude in Israel. In Israel, an American black man is nothing but another tourist, and he gets the contempt or the respect that all tourists get here. Here, they don’t get to play the race card. Here, it’s Visa, Mastercard, American Express or cash. Their race card and sense of entitlement is worthless here. All of us here feel we’re entitled, and some damned foreign tourist with a big mouth just won’t rate a moment’s notice.

    As for Laura Schlesinger, if she hasn’t learned not to victimize others with racial slurs after saying she’s a Jew, she hasn’t learned anything. She can go back to church and worship Jesus.

  • I commend Laura for standing up for freedom of speech, however…Where is she going to find it? What medium can reach that many people besides, radio and TV? the internet…

  • She’s not even a “personality”…

    She is if you listen to a radio.

  • Zedd

    What was more telling to me was not her use of the N-word, as dumb as that was. It was that she was ready for a fight with this woman, simply because she said she was Black and felt offended about something. I don’t really think she even listen to this woman’s dilema, she was just ready to fire back at Al Sharpton (or who ever the vilans are in her mind) through this woman, simply because she was Black.

    That said more about her prejudiced attitude than anything. It was a “you people” response.

    On the N-word:

    I get to fuss at my kid in public, you don’t. My brother got to tease me to tears, his freinds couldn’t. I get to say “I’m fat”, you’d better not :o).

    Nothing really complicated about why Blacks get to call each other Niggas. It also diminishes the relevance of the word and those who’d want to use it to hurt or opress, if its used at play. Also, it is used in a completely different context within the AA community.

    Everyone already knew this though so moving right along.

  • …and she just announced that she’s quitting the world of Wingnut talk radio…so she can avail herself of her first amendment rights and say whatever she d*#m well wants to say.

  • Clavos

    She’s not even a “personality”…

  • zingzing

    for the love of gawd, ruvy… she fucked up. she fucked up and said something she shouldn’t have. mel gibson did as well a few years back. when people say this kind of stuff, they get their ass handed to them. as they should.

    besides, you have worse things to think about. in less than a week, iran will most likely be nuclear. don’t waste time on this little radio personality. she’s meaningless.

  • Zedd


    With Ruvy its always a Jewish thing. The topic could be about the moon landing and somehow he’ll bring the topic of Israel into it. Its because he’s chosen… the center of the universe, don’t you know.

  • Zedd

    So if a Jew is hateful towards or mistreats another Jew, what is that? Is that antisemitism? Where do they need to move to?

  • It’s a Jewish thing only in that someone like Dr. Laura should understand her remarks in the context of her own cultural history, which happens to be Jewish.

    In any event her remarks lacked any perspective or sensitivity. But then again, this IS Dr. Laura. I wrote the piece because I was stunned by her lack of understanding.

  • Ruvy

    This isn’t a Jewish thing. It’s a very American thing and nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. But so long as Jews waste their time and talents refusing to come home, they will ultimately damage themselves. And Jews in exile always worry about being hated – or didn’t you read the article, Glenn?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Exactly how did this become a ‘Jewish thing’? IMO her comments had absolutely squat to do with her faith or the lack thereof and has everything to do with the ongoing race-baiting by the Right.

    …but conduct like hers does aggravate the rift between Jews and African-Americans (and why there is such a rift has always been beyond me).

  • Ruvy


    The Jewish leadership will not say you are not a Jew if you can produce a ketuba from your mother and grandmother, or a letter from your rabbi attesting to the fact that you are a Jew. The Orthodox rabbis may not like you – I’ll grant that likelihood – but they do not have the deciding say in whether you are recognized as a Jew in this country. That belongs to the Ministry of Absorption and the Ministry of the Interior. Th rabbis do not get to open their mouths, much as they might want to. When I came to this country in 2001, I was a conservative Jew and because my mother’s ketuba was not recognized by the immigration people as authentic (the rabbi did what lots of rabbis did then and signed his name “reverend”), I got a letter from my conservative rabbi attesting to the fact that I was a Jew. That was all I needed.

    Laura Schlesinger may have more trouble were she to decide to leave the States and come home – this because she publicly rejected Orthodox Judaism – and she is a convert. But those are her problems.

  • Ruvy, Enough, already.

    I have great fears about Israel these days and the pushing further and further towards trying to delegitimize non-orthodox strains of Judaism. When religious leadership considers that I am not an authentic Jew in a land that is supposed to be for me a refuge and homeland, how does one react? I fear for my homeland from threats both without and within.

  • Ruvy

    Dr. Laura is but a symptom of what’s going on with the right wing in America.

    That anyone should allow themselves to be upset by a woman who is nothing more than a loudmouth on radio is farcical.. Laura Shlesinger should get her but to Israel if she wants to learn what being Jewish is all about – as have so many other converts I know.

    She wastes her talents in exile, and those Jews who waste their talents in exile will increasingly find that there is a price tag to their actions.

  • Zedd


  • Glenn Contrarian

    To me, Dr. Laura is but a symptom of what’s going on with the right wing in America. She’s a lot like some in my quite conservative family down in the Mississippi Delta who have no problem whatsoever using the N-word (as long as no black folks are around) and shudder at the thought that their kids might get romantically involved with a black man or woman, but will swear up and down that they’re not at all racist.

    Of course they’ll also tell you that the fact that Mississippi has the highest proportion of blacks of any state, but also has the lowest proportion of mixed-race marriages has nothing to do with racism – unless it’s racism by the blacks, that is.

    That’s why even though I love the Delta, I’ll never live there again.